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‘Transportation emergency’: Officials warn of severe roadway traffic during Orange Line shutdown

BOSTON — Traffic on Massachusetts roads will be “severe” and commute times will be longer when the MBTA shuts down the Orange Line later this week in an effort to complete five years worth of upgrades in a span of 30 days, officials said.

“Whether you drive, bike, or walk, you will see changes in your everyday commute and your commute will likely be longer, ” Massachusetts State Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said during a news conference at MassDOT headquarters.

The shutdown is slated to start this Friday at 9:00 p.m. The first real test of the closure will follow on Aug. 22 when the first morning rush happens. The shutdown is scheduled to last until Sept. 18.

“To be clear, these shutdowns will have substantial regional travel impacts beyond the just transit users,” Gulliver said. “Traffic congestion is expected to be severe.”

Service diversions could cut some roadway capacity in half, starting as early as Monday, as crews continue to work to carve out additional space for shuttle buses.

“Travelers along 93, Route 1, and The Fellsway should especially expect some additional traffic congestion in some periods as much as 20 percent, Gulliver said.

Throughout the shutdown, the T will offer free shuttle buses between Oak Grove and Haymarket/Government Center and between Forest Hills and Back Bay/Copley. Gulliver urged bikers to use caution as they navigate the increased presence of buses on city streets.

“I want to give a special warning to vulnerable road users, like cyclists and pedestrians. The shuttle buses that are being implemented here are not the same as MBTA buses,” Gulliver said. “They have different turning radiuses and different blind spots for drivers. If you are walking or biking near these shuttle buses near this route you need to be extra vigilant, especially around these bus stops and around turns and intersections.”

Baker asked commuters to remain patient while service is suspended, stating that the work will “result in a smoother and faster Orange Line.”

“We all know that this diversion will be an inconvenience for riders. Be patient for the next 30 days...It’s necessary work and it will result in a smoother and faster Orange Line coming out the other side,” Baker said. “When this project is complete, Orange Line travelers will have a faster and more reliable ride and the Orange Line car fleet will be made up almost exclusively of new vehicles.”

Citing the “transportation challenges” riders will be facing, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak asked businesses along the Orange Line to allow for a work-from-home schedule where “feasible.” He also suggested the utilization of the commuter rail.

“I understand that many of our customers do not have the option to stay home during the closures and rely on the MBTA to get them where they’re going, so I encourage all of our customers to plan ahead and consider alternative travel options,” Poftak said.

Boston’s Chief of Streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, called the looming shutdown a “transportation emergency.” Mayor Michelle Wu said the city will be offering free 30-day Bluebikes passes during the shutdown.

When asked about his thoughts on crews successfully completing the planned work during the shutdown, Baker said, “I am actually pretty confident that this work can get done.”

The T last week unveiled its “Rider’s Guide to Planning Ahead.” Riders can also monitor MBTA social media for the latest updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, to subscribe to T-Alerts at mbta.com, and visit more information at mbta.com/BBT2022.

In addition to the Orange Line being closed, Green Line service north of Government Center will similarly be offline and replaced by shuttle buses for four weeks between August and September.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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